Confessions of a Failed Indie Developer

Confessions of a failed indie developer is a thought-provoking post by an experienced console developer who tried to “go it alone” as an independent game developer. The lessons learnt seem largely familiar compared with other failed indies that I’ve talked to or read about, and to take an extract from the original article:

  1. I vastly underestimated the money needed to pay for the project. You need a good source of funding, or a lot of savings to make the indie adventure work. Relying on a crowdfunding campaign is a huge gamble that’s unlikely to pay off unless you can get a lot of press and/or are already well known.
  2. I was way too ambitious with the game I was trying to build. I was trying to build something the size and complexity of Portal all on my own, when I really should have listened to people and built something small and simple.
  3. Building my own engine, whilst fun and a great learning experience, was an expensive mistake. For six months’ work all I had to show for it was a short proof of concept demo. I should have used UDK, Unity or one of the other available game engines and got on with building a game, but my pride as an experienced game engine programmer didn’t let me!
  4. I was sorely missing an artist or level designer – I struggled with Blender and it took me an awfully long time to build the demo level I had. Also, having someone work with me would have been a great way to get feedback on what I was doing.
  5. I vastly underestimated the time it would take to build the game. My prediction of shipping my first game in September 2011 was, in hindsight, laughable. I actively avoided any detailed scheduling and management of the project, preferring to just get my head down and write code – this was a mistake, particularly given the slim funds I had at my disposal. In fact, I had no real business plan at all – Make game, ???, PROFIT was about as detailed as it got.

These are all good points to run any game ideas against at an early stage and be prepared to raise a red flag and postpone a game altogether. (I don’t think many good ideas get thrown away, just postponed… possibly forever.) It’s a reminder that it’s all about delivery. To paraphrase the “to finish first, first you must finish” saying: “to have a hit game, first you have to have a game”.

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